- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

Webster defines "ion" as an electrically charged atom. Saturn has another definition for its ION: a small, inexpensive car designed to appeal to younger buyers.
The 2003 Saturn ION isn't equipped with all the bells and whistles found in other Saturn sedans, which is why this car costs only $12,000. A Saturn spokesperson said, "The entry level segment forms a lifetime impression."
Right now, the average age of Saturn buyers is 44. But by offering a quality car at a more affordable price, Saturn expects to bring the average age down to 39. That means some of the buyers will be fresh out of college buyers that Saturn wants to keep for years to come.
I'm at the other end of the age spectrum, but I'm impressed with the ION. This vehicle is in the small-car segment, and both the sedan and quad coupe have a lot of good features. The ION replaces the S-Series and is new from the ground up.
The first thing I noticed when I got in the ION was the instrument panel located right in the middle of the dash panel. It appears to be out of place; but after a while, I realized the center is an ideal location for the instrumentation for two reasons: I could lower the steering wheel to my preferred level without concern about the top of the wheel hindering my view of the speedometer. And it was easier to shift my eyes horizontally instead of up and down to view the speedometer while driving.
There's another location change that makes sense: The battery is in the trunk instead of in the crowded engine compartment. Not only is the battery easier to service, it shifts weight to the rear, helping to balance the overall weight of the vehicle.
Another innovation involves the doors on the ION quad coupe. Both front and rear doors open from the center (B pillar) outward except there isn't any B pillar. It's easy to enter both front and rear seats, and easier to load large cargo in the rear seat area. Although this vehicle won't be available until early next year, I wouldn't be surprised to see other manufacturers copy the door design because it makes sense.
The $12,000 price is for the manual transmission; an automatic costs $12,895. Options such as air conditioning, power windows and locks, mirrors, cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels, AM/FM stereo CD/cassette with an automatic transmission can run as high as $16,475, including shipping and handling. Considering the overall quality of this car, that's a bargain. For those with more money to spend, OnStar is available.
Other noteworthy features include an oil life monitor, automatic headlights, and speed-sensitive windshield wipers features that are usually found only on expensive cars. And the large trunk is a selling point. So are the full-size glove compartment and storage pockets on the doors, plus storage bins convenient to the driver's seat.
Even though the overall appearance is attractive, for those who want to make their own statement, Saturn has ION kits with interchangeable exterior roof rails that can be color-coordinated with interior trim kits.
A 2.2-liter, inline, four-cylinder engine powers the ION. It produces 140 horsepower and 145 foot-pounds of torque. The sedan with the manual transmission has a mileage rating of 26 city and 29 highway. Statistics aside, I found the power quite adequate no matter what type of roads I was driving.
Saturn has also included the full complement of safety equipment so it doesn't fall short in this area either. All in all, the ION should make a lifetime impression on anyone young or old.


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